12" working railroad

Discuss park gauge trains and large scale miniature railways having track gauges from 8" to 24" gauge and designed at scales of 2" to the foot or greater - whether modeled for personal use, or purpose built for amusement park operation or private railroading.

Moderators: Glenn Brooks, Harold_V

Forum rules
Topics may include: antique park gauge train restoration, preservation, and history; building new grand scale equipment from scratch; large scale miniature railway construction, maintenance, and safe operation; fallen flags; track, gauge, and equipment standards; grand scale vendor offerings; and, compiling an on-line motive power roster.
Post Reply
Posts: 447
Joined: Tue Aug 22, 2017 10:33 am

12" working railroad

Post by rkcarguy » Tue Aug 22, 2017 12:36 pm

I'm a noob here, 2nd post!
I purchased some land last year and am in the process of getting a small home put on it in Washington State.
I've always been into trains since I was a kid, and had initially...and I may still, planned on putting up a pole building and re-erecting my HO scale layout in the upstairs.
The land I purchased is heavily treed. I'll have wood heat in the house and will be dealing with firewood on a regular basis. Plus, the driveway is about 250' long and my lower back is not going to endure dragging a garbage can up and down it, or lifting it up and down from the back of my truck. Initially I started looking for a utility type 4-wheeler, then the light bulb came on in my head....it's time for the firewood and garbage express!

My lot has some decent slope to it, so I was concerned with the grades I had to deal with. Initial "survey" said 5% which isn't going to work.
Through google earth, I was able to create a path, save it, and "view elevation profile", and through some trial and error come upon a route that will yield less than 3.5% grades. So this will work, but I'll need some good motive power and traction obviously....and good brakes!

I started life as a machinist, expanded into fabrication and carpentry, and now after a back injury I'm in management for a contractor who also has a fab and machine shop. I've got welders, belt sander, band saw, table saw, chop saw, torch, grinders, plenty of tools at home, and also have limited access to the equipment at work.

The plan:
Start near the end of the driveway at the road and wind my way south, to what will end up being a backwards S-shaped route with a reversing loop on each end and about 800' of track total. Like any layout it will probably grow from there haha!
I settled upon 12" gage because I wanted to move some weight and have a stable(wide) track for doing so. Utilization of the various small motors and car parts I have laying around also fit the best within a larger scale. Track will be a "groovy track" type design with grooves cut in 2x4's with flat bar laid on end. Additionally, I decided I want to weld washers to the flat bar rails and screw every tie to the rail as I plan on moving some real weight. I have wholesale availability of steel, wood, and lots of scrap to sort through for freebies, so this makes the most sense.

Motive power:
My first locomotive will be an Old Milwaukee Baldwin S-12. These used to run here when I was young, and it's boxy shape will make it fairly easy to model. I have already purchased 8ea 4 bolt flange bearings, 1" shaft material, and a "variety box" of good quality 520 chain and sprockets from a motorcycle shop that is closing(retiring). Having been into go karts in the past, I have a couple of the 7HP 212cc predator engines still new in the box, plus a 420cc predator that has been modified to around 18HP and 20lbs of torque. I've got centrifugal clutches kicking around that fit both engines.

Drive options:
The body of the S-12 will fit the 212cc motors, but the 420cc engine would only fit inside the cab. I had initially planned on truck mounting both 212cc engines inside the body with double gear reduction chain drives about 18:1, yielding about 5mph @ ~3000 rpm and 245 ft/lbs of torque at the axles figuring 20% loss. But, I've got to conjure up some kind of reverse mechanism x 2. Plus each engine will need a centrifugal clutch on it and the slippage could be a concern, although I don't expect it to be at such a low speed and gear ratio. 14 tooth sprockets(there was a bunch of them in the box) will be put on all 4 axles so they will all be driven, then a 30T will be placed on two of the axles with a 13T driving it from the "topside" on each truck at a 2.3:1 ratio. From there, a 12/88 ratio (7.33:1)would be used from the engine in #35 chain. I have everything I need except the 88T sprockets, and some sort of reverse.
Option B, would be to cab mount the 420cc engine and use hydraulics, but I'm at a loss of how to size the pump and motors and would love some insight there, the resulting "fluid gear ratio" and so on. Reverse would be easy though, as would the mechanics with only hoses going to each truck. I'd have to purchase all the hydraulics and they seem to be quite expensive though. FYI, I'm forecasting the locomotive to weigh around 600#'s, probably 140#'s per piece of rolling stock(3 cars max), and have about 500#'s of load capacity in each car.
I will also run a Honda Civic alternator(I have several) and a battery so I can run accessories.

Due to the weight I want to move, I have ruled out gas-electric due to cost of the electric motors and drives.

For brakes, I'm planning on using rear disc brake calipers so I have the options of hydraulic, mechanical(e-brake cables and handle/linkage), and air over hydraulic. I figure using 1 per truck on the locomotive and one per piece of rolling stock.

Sorry for the long post, just wanted to get all the details out there so you guys could shoot some holes in them:)

Posts: 447
Joined: Tue Aug 22, 2017 10:33 am

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by rkcarguy » Tue Aug 22, 2017 12:53 pm

Ah yes and one forgotten detail, I'd love some coupler height and pin size info so I can maintain some uniformity there as well.

Glenn Brooks
Posts: 1093
Joined: Mon Nov 10, 2014 1:39 pm
Location: Lanikai, Hawaii

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by Glenn Brooks » Tue Aug 22, 2017 1:23 pm


good plan! Should be lots of fun. Check out 'Erskine Tramway' thread on the ' Riding Scale' forum. Mike is doing something similar to what you contemplate.

Definitely plan on no more than 2% grade for your ROW. Any more and your wheels slip due to coefficient of friction with steel rails, AND your ability to carry a load decreases to almost nothing. So under 2' in 100' rise over run is a good rule of thumb.

FWIW, if you want to short circuit the engineering and build process for the locomotive, I have an old time , shop made, 4" scale (1/3 rd scale) loco that needs restoration, that I've been thinking of selling. It was built by a retired Northern Pacific RR engineer in the 1960's, and has all the components - motor, transmission, ride in cab for a nice 12" gauge freight hauling operation. It's been in storage for 25 years and needs new paint and a complete engine T/I. But that's a lot less work than building something from scratch. Probably cheaper also.

I've got to many projects and not enuf time...

Moderator - Grand Scale Forum

Motive power : 1902 A.S.Campbell 4-4-0 American - 12 5/8" gauge, 1955 Ottaway 4-4-0 American 12" gauge

Ahaha, Retirement: the good life - drifting endlessly on a Sea of projects....

Posts: 447
Joined: Tue Aug 22, 2017 10:33 am

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by rkcarguy » Tue Aug 22, 2017 1:59 pm

Glenn, I appreciate the offer, but for the me the build is part of the fun. I should add that at work, we have an automated machine that can drill and do milling operations in structural steel pretty quickly. They are going to run my loco's truck sides from 6" channel, including the spring pockets, bolt pattern for the flange bearings, and slots such that I can trim away the remnant for a somewhat similar look/shape to the S-12's trucks. I'm going to fabricate the frame from tube steel and then make the body from aluminum and have it drop over the whole thing. Most of this I either have on hand or collected from the scrap bin. I like this method because I can use carbide tipped tooling to work with the aluminum at home with my wood working tools and make good progress with the riveter and TIG welder if I have to.
I'm not sure if I can get down to 2%, I'll see what I can do though with excavating out the high end and building up the low end. Maybe I'll need a working sand hopper haha. My plan is, each time I have the mini-excavator or bobcat rented for the trenching/excavation/backfill, and finish grades on the house, I'm going to tackle some of the ROW grade with the extra time over the weekend. On my last construction project, I rented the machine over the weekend and was allotted 8 hours of use, but I was always done in about 2 hours and the extra machine time just went to waste.

User avatar
Posts: 1480
Joined: Sat Jan 04, 2003 10:37 am
Location: New Lenox, IL

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by ccvstmr » Tue Aug 22, 2017 6:16 pm

1st...welcome to Chaski. If there's one things readers on this forum love...it's photos! Many like to watch what other hobbyists/railroaders are doing. Like most things in this hobby...ask 6 guys the same question...and you'll likely get 12 different responses. What's "best" depends on the criteria YOU establish. As you can imagine...opinions are free of charge.

2nd...keeping the grade down as low as possible is going to be important. Ever consider switch backs? Everything has trade-offs. If you're looking for continuous running on sloped land...concessions will be needed. Switchback can sometimes be considered a PITA...but you can still make great use of the natural lay of the land to get from Point A to Point B...may just take a little longer. Enjoy the view!

3rd...understand your desire to build it on your own. Still, nothing wrong with getting something existing and fixing that up to get on the rails as quickly as possible...while you build your ultimate machine. Never say never.

4th...don't know where you're located. BUT...several years ago, there was a family that built a railroad somewhere in WA that turned out to be a sore issue with the local/state jurisdiction. Railroad was call the Meadows and Lake Kathleen RR. They ended up in a big stink and eventually had to remove anything remotely related to the RR. They sold the property and decided to "get out of Dodge". Was really a shame. Hope you won't have the same problem(s).

Good luck. Keep us posted on your progress. Carl B.
Life is like a sewer...what you get out of it depends on what you put into it!
I don't walk on water...I just learned where some of the stepping stones are!
I love mankind...it's some of the people I can't stand!

Posts: 83
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 12:36 am
Location: Bohemia, NY

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by LIALLEGHENY » Wed Aug 23, 2017 6:51 am

I thought the problem with the Meadows and Lake Kathleen RR was an "environmental" issue. There was a stream that ran through the middle of the property and the officials had a problem with the railroad crossing it, or for that matter being anywhere near it. It was a beautiful railroad from the pictures I had seen.

3.5% grade is doable, just jeep the train short and add a little lead to the loco. Would make operating it a bit more challenging but fun. I too like the idea of a switchback.


User avatar
Posts: 1431
Joined: Sun Jan 05, 2003 10:55 am
Location: Central Florida

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by FLSTEAM » Wed Aug 23, 2017 7:16 am


You might be interested in a wheel pattern I have for grand scale riding cars. $150
PM me if you have any interest.

John B
Shay drawings and castings

Posts: 334
Joined: Sun Oct 16, 2005 7:04 pm
Location: Sw of the Windy City

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by tomc » Wed Aug 23, 2017 10:03 am

We have gone up to 5.2% on the main line and our steam engine can haul two cars loaded plus a small caboose. Our gas hydraulic can do more as she is heavy. Build in plenty of weight and 3.5% will work. Our branch like has switchbacks and 7% on one grade. The shay can handle that and the the Gas engine even more. It is more of a braking problem than a lifting problem as the wheels will slip when trying to stop if not careful on speed. You may need brakes on your cars that you can control. We use brakeman to control speed if loaded.

Tom C.
Lost somewhere in Michigan!

Posts: 447
Joined: Tue Aug 22, 2017 10:33 am

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by rkcarguy » Wed Aug 23, 2017 12:26 pm

Thanks for the input everyone. I have checked into the legalities of the RR and couldn't find much. I do not have any streams, only drainage ditches down both sides of the property and the detention pond which has an adjustable height drainpipe and is currently empty and full of alders. I don't really see it as being any different than if I was to haul my wood and trash with an ATV. I'll still need a path, still be using a fuel burning oil lubricated engine to move everything. In fact, the ATV would inflict ongoing wear on the path and surroundings potentially causing muddy runoff in the wet season, where that won't happen with the train on the rails.
I can understand the issue with the stream though, as I've gone through the permit process and seen the sections requiring special "attention", it's pretty touchy stuff adding a bridge, culvert, or anything near a stream that has fish, or drains into a river with fish. Also, the track will be down grade from the road and the home, so it's not going to be viewable unless someone comes on the property. There is no occupied structures or foundations, no permanent attachments(gravity just holds it all there obviously), no high voltage, and no reason I can find that would even require a permit.
I was thinking that I've got twice the driving wheels Glen has, so I should be able to get away with a bit more grade if I have to.

Posts: 447
Joined: Tue Aug 22, 2017 10:33 am

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by rkcarguy » Wed Aug 23, 2017 12:40 pm

Concerning elevation and switchbacks, initially I didn't think it was going to be possible, as the property slopes from 308' at the NW corner down to 258' at the SE corner. It's very lumpy though, and after doing a bunch of elevation profiles in google earth I found ONE possible route. It will basically parallel the driveway +/-, for about 180' due south, then about a 70* turn east, a large radius turn about 160* back due west, then a short straight and a loop around the detention pond. I don't have much yet except a collection of parts and a line drawn on google earth, but I can post up if interested.

Posts: 447
Joined: Tue Aug 22, 2017 10:33 am

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by rkcarguy » Wed Aug 23, 2017 6:25 pm

Tomc, would you mind sharing what's under the hood of your gas-hydraulic, as far as the hydraulic pump and motor(s)?
I've decided it makes the most sense to go hydraulic with motors on each truck, and mount the 420cc engine sideways in the back where the Cab is.
Some hoses and a log splitter valve for Fwd/Stop/Rev and I'm home free.

User avatar
Posts: 555
Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 9:19 pm
Location: Midwestern United States

Re: 12" working railroad

Post by BigDumbDinosaur » Wed Aug 23, 2017 8:48 pm

rkcarguy wrote:Some hoses and a log splitter valve for Fwd/Stop/Rev and I'm home free.
I do not recommend the use of a log splitter valve. Among other things, such valves will cause your propulsion system to go into hydrostatic lock when the valve is in neutral. What that means is if your train is in motion and you put the valve into neutral, the traction motors will immediately stop rotating, causing you to come to an abrupt, wheel-sliding halt.

The proper valve to use is a four-way, three-position, motor control valve, such as this product.
Science makes it known. Engineering makes it work.

Post Reply